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As the popularity of drones explodes, so do risks to airplanes

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Recreational drones haven’t caused a major airport shutdown in Canada — like what happened at London’s Heathrow Airport earlier this week — but they have led to delays and plenty of near-misses with airplanes.

As the number of recreational drones in Canada explodes, more of them are flying dangerously close to airports, a CBC News analysis of federal data shows.

Pilots spotted drones on or near their flight paths at least 130 times over the past five years. On a few occasions, it gave pilots a good scare, forcing them to turn the plane to avoid a collision.

But with the exception of one incident in Quebec City in 2017 that resulted in minor damage to a small propeller plane, there have been no confirmed collisions.

“We are a little worried. There are more drones than aircraft in Canada, so we can’t be against drones. So it’s a question of how we co-habitate in a safe way,” said Bernard Gervais, president and CEO of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), which represents non-commercial pilots. “Still, I’m more worried about birds than drones.”

On Tuesday, a drone was spotted at the busy Heathrow Airport, grounding flights for more than an hour. And the presence of drones near the U.K.’s Gatwick Airport just before Christmas led to 36 hours of chaos, with more than 100,000 passengers affected by cancelled and delayed flights.

Since 2014, there have been 760 incidents involving drones near Canadian airfields that were reported to authorities and published by the Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System (CADORS)

Most of them happened in the past three years, as the number of drones in Canada increased.

According to Transport Canada, the number of validated drone incident reports — where the department was able to validate the sightings through other sources — was 235 over the past two years.

The vast majority of reported sightings were near restricted airspace — mostly airports, helipads and harbours. In many of these cases, the drones were operating without authorization and no notice was given to local authorities.

This has led to some mid-air collisions being narrowly avoided.

In June 2017, a helicopter conducting a gas leak pipeline patrol near Valleyview, Alta., had to make a quick turn to avoid a drone by about three to six metres, one incident report noted.

In May 2018, another report noted a Piper J-3 Cub monoplane narrowly averted colliding with a drone near Woodstock, Ont., by conducting “an immediate 30-degree turn to the left.”

Drones, even small ones, could cause catastrophic damage if they hit an aircraft’s propeller, wing or engine, especially on smaller hobby planes. 

“It could completely sever a propeller and bring down the aircraft,” Gervais said.

That means planes can be grounded and arrivals diverted as a precaution.

In 2016, a drone flying over Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport caused several Porter Airline flights to be delayed or diverted until it was no longer visible.

Last August, a drone sighting reported by a Cessna 152 caused the delay of two departures at Montreal’s St-Hubert Longueuil Airport, and one plane had to be directed to another runway.

But drones can cause more than travel delays. In 2015, a drone flying over a wildfire in Testalinden Creek, B.C., forced the grounding of aircraft involved in firefighting efforts for a four-hour period.

Gervais hopes new federal regulations for drones released this week will reduce these kinds of incidents.

The rules — which come into effect on June 1 — require that drones be registered and that operators of larger drones be certified. They also introduce a minimum age limit for drone pilots and a requirement that the devices are visible at all times and flown below 122 metres in the air, among other things.

But Gervais believes more education around drones is still needed.

“It will take a big change and a lot more information to know what people should be doing with drones,” he said.

“We don’t want to be too optimistic or pessimistic,” he added. “It’s a new technology — like when cars replaced horses and folks were worried the people would be run over all the time.”

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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